HEALTH ACCESS ALERT

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

As Health Access and many other organizations work on policy reforms to expand health coverage, there are on-the-ground efforts to win health benefits for thousands of working families. Advocates are encouraged to support these efforts, most recently with janitors around the state, and casino workers in the Coachella Valley.

CASINO EMPLOYEES: REQUESTING ORGANIZATIONS TO SUPPORT HEALTH CARE FOR WORKING FAMILIES

In the Coachella Valley, most workers at the Agua Caliente casinos cannot afford the family health plan offered by the casino management. As a result, many of the families of the casino employees are forced to use taxpayer funded state programs, which exacerbates the statewide budget and health care crises.

California tribal casino operations are in the midst of negotiations with Governor Davis to obtain thousands more slot machines for their casinos. These new machines will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profits to the casinos, but to receive them the tribes must renegotiate their compacts with the Governor.

The workers at the Agua Caliente casinos, organized by HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) Local 309, are in the middle of a public campaign to win family health insurance benefits through enforceable union contracts. They hope to make their health care needs part of the compact negotiations. Organizations are urged to SIGN ON TO A PUBLIC LETTER calling on the tribal casino operators to provide affordable family health insurance to their employees.

ATTACHED are:

* A one-page fact sheet giving background on the issue

* A electronic file of a Los Angeles Times article on this issue

* A public letter that organizations are encouraged to sign-on and fax-back.

Signers of the public letter should fax it to Francis Engler, HERE Local 309, at fax #: 760-325-6238. For questions or more information, call him at (760) 275-3213.

JANITORS: HOLDING THE LINE ON HEALTH BENEFITS AND COSTS

As of this writing, a strike is pending by San Francisco janitors, where the main issue is health care benefits, and the costs associated with such coverage. Earlier this year, janitors in Sacramento and elsewhere were able to win family health coverage for the first time. Below is today’s article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

** Mayor offers to mediate

** Janitors’ talks stalled over health care issues

George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/08/05/BU33178.DTL

A possible strike by 3,000 union janitors who clean 250 downtown San Francisco office buildings was averted for the time being Monday when Mayor Willie Brown offered to serve as a mediator in what have been fruitless contract negotiations.

Representative of the union, the Service Employees International Union, Local 1877, and building owners and cleaning companies that employ the janitors agreed to meet with Brown at City Hall beginning at 11:30 a.m. today.

The workers’ contract expired Thursday at midnight. On Saturday they overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, and a walkout was possible late Monday afternoon in the absence of a new contract offer. A proposal did not materialize, but Brown’s intervention put the labor dispute on hold. Janitors went to work Monday evening.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” Mike Garcia, the SEIU president, said Monday of Brown’s offer to mediate. To a crowd of a few hundred janitors who had marched up Market Street from Justin Herman Plaza to City Hall, he said, “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow (in mediation), but we do know the powerful building owners and the mayor are bending to our power and the threat of our strike and want to try to work something out.”

Marc Intermaggio, executive vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco, was more reserved. “We certainly appreciate the mayor’s interest in the status of the negotiations and wanting to resolve the issues.”

Still, the possibility of a strike looms and could come this evening, labor leaders said. The union janitors clean many major Financial District buildings, including landmarks such as the Embarcadero Center and Transamerica Pyramid.

The two sides appear not far apart, but the union says principle is involved. For 30 years, San Francisco’s union janitors have had full employer- paid health care coverage. In this proposed five-year contract, the building owners and cleaning companies would still pay the full premium and deductable for the workers’ health care policies, but are asking the workers to pay a $10 doctor’s visit co-payment; a $5 co-pay for generic drugs (they currently pay $2), and a $10 co-pay for formulary prescriptions.

The employers would continue to fully fund the janitors’ pension, and they are offering a wage increase totaling $1.30 per hour over the five years of the contract.

Most janitors now earn top scale of $15.65 per hour with a total compensation package amounting to $19.65.

“It’s more than the burden of a co-pay,” Garcia said in an interview. “It’s putting more on the backs of the workers, and when that starts, everything starts to crumble. Workers pay more and more and more out of pocket to the point they can no longer afford their health care benefits. That is what we are trying to stop,” he said.

Garcia added, “If we accept more of the burden we open the floodgates. We believe we are fighting this fight not only for the janitors of San Francisco, we are fighting this fight for all working people under the burden of rising health care costs in this country.”

The $10 co-pay, said Intermaggio, “is an infinitesimal, minimal price to pay for that enormous health care cost, particularly in today’s business environment when companies are struggling to stay in business and thus provide jobs for janitors.”

Garcia said that Brown told him and union negotiators three weeks ago that he would come in and mediate if talks broke down. “He followed through on his commitment,” said Garcia.

As Garcia rallied the rank and file, there was no yielding in his voice. “Are we ready to fight? Are we ready to win?” he bellowed on the steps of City Hall.

In an interview, though, Garcia, who has negotiated nine separate SEIU contracts in recent months across the western United States, said, “We are always willing to negotiate.” If the doctor’s visit co-payment were reduced or removed, a deal could be struck on the drug co-payment, he suggested.

Throughout negotiations, however, SEIU has been unyielding. “They indicate they will take absolutely no change in their current health care insurance plan,” Bob Ford, chief negotiator for the building owners and cleaning companies, said Monday.

Speaking for themselves, janitors said they are prepared to strike if necessary. “Sometimes you reach a point that you have to sacrifice yourself in order to achieve whatever your goal is,” said Victor Galvez, a janitor who has cleaned Levi Plaza building for 22 years. “It is not a matter of money. It is justice, respect for the working class.”

A number of San Francisco supervisors and other elected officials gave janitors their encouragement at the City Hall rally, including Supervisor Chris Daly, who had a proposal of his own. Should the mediation fail, Daly said he is prepared to introduce legislation that would require San Francisco employers to pay their workers’ full health care benefits.



Anthony E. Wright

Executive Director

Health Access

1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814

Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921

awright@health-access.org

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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